CHN: Jobless Benefits Restored; Action on Long-Term Jobs Measures Pending
Jobless benefits for hundreds of thousands of workers were reinstated on April 15 when President Obama signed into law the Continuing Extension Act of 2010 (H.R. 4851). Congress let the federal unemployment insurance program lapse after failing to pass an extension prior to its two-week April recess (Read more on the expiration of the program in the March 29, 2010 Human Needs Report). H.R. 4851 cleared both chambers just hours prior to President Obama signing the measure. First the Senate passed the bill 59-38. Republican Senators Collins (ME), Snowe (ME) and Voinovich (OH) voted for final passage, while Democratic Senators Bayh (IN), Nelson (FL) and Warner (VA) did not vote. The House voted 289-112 in favor of the bill.
The new legislation, PL 111-157, extends unemployment benefits through June 2 and also allows the thousands of workers whose benefits expired on April 5 to receive their benefits retroactively. Additionally, the $18 billion package restores COBRA health benefit subsidies and full payments to Medicare physicians until the end of May.
With just over a month before the Unemployment Insurance (UI) and COBRA programs will again expire, House and Senate leaders hope to reach an agreement on a long-term jobs package, the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act of 2010, H.R. 4213. This bill would extend UI, COBRA, and the increased aid to states for Medicaid costs (FMAP) through the end of 2010 and continue postponement of a scheduled cut in payments to Medicare physicians for the same time period. H.R. 4213 also includes extensions of a series of tax breaks that expired at the end of 2009. Both chambers already passed the bill but they need to agree on offsets to pay for the tax cut “extenders” portion of the bill. The Senate version of the bill is about $27 billion short since some of the revenue-raising provisions of the bill were used for the health care reconciliation legislation. Once an agreement has been reached, the House will likely add the new offsets and any other agreed upon changes to the March 10 Senate-passed H.R. 4213. A Senate vote would then follow.
There is a possibility that a one year extension of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund will get attached to H.R. 4213. The TANF Emergency Fund allows states to provide more direct cash assistance to struggling families and to create subsidized jobs for low-income workers. On March 24, the House passed H.R. 4849, The Small Business and Infrastructure Jobs Tax Act of 2010 which included $2.5 billion for the TANF Emergency Fund in fiscal year 2011. However, the Senate has yet to take up the bill. If the TANF emergency funds are not extended soon, states now making budget decisions will feel forced to curtail subsidized jobs programs and will be reluctant to provide benefits to the growing numbers of poor families who need TANF because parents cannot find work.
Advocates continue to point out that Congress’ response to persistent joblessness has been inadequate so far. They are building support and urging action on these and other job measures, such as the Local Jobs for America Act, H.R. 4812. This bill, introduced by Representative George Miller (D-CA) would create or save 1 million jobs over two years at a cost of $100 billion by providing 100 percent federal funding for local government jobs and for jobs in the non-profit sector. Many of the jobs created would assist low-income people and communities. Thus far, 151 Representatives have co-sponsored the bill. With the high rate of unemployment among youth, action is also critically needed to fund summer jobs for this population. The House passed the Disaster Relief and Summer Jobs Act of 2010, H.R. 4899 on March 24, which includes $600 million for summer jobs for youth (only half the amount available in 2009 for summer jobs under the economic recovery act). Action on both of these bills is still pending in the Senate.
Efforts are also underway to curtail expected job losses in the education sector. Senator Harkin (D-IA) introduced S. 3206, theKeep Our Educators Working Act, which would provide $23 billion in emergency aid to states to help stave off education-related job cuts. The Local Jobs for America Act discussed above includes a similar provision, as did the Jobs for Main Street Act as originally passed in the House in December. The Recovery Act provided critical funding to states through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) that lessened the impact of state budget shortfalls in education. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports that the SFSF aid saved 284,000 jobs. Still, school districts cut off 104,500 jobs and worse state budget shortfalls are expected in fiscal year 2011 and 2012. To read more on the need for education funding see CBPP’s paper,Premature End of Federal Assistance to States Threatens Education Reforms and Jobs.